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How Will Africa Fight Climate Change?

1 June, 2016
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Although Africa produces the least global CO2 emissions, estimated at around 4%, climate change will hit the continent the hardest of all. At the historic COP 21 UN Climate Change conference in Paris in December 2015, countries committed themselves to reduce global CO2 emissions to below two degrees Celsius by 2100, but challenges continue to face underdeveloped Africa.

"Nature is already yelling at us," said Germany's Ambassador to Egypt Julius Georg Luy at Cairo Climate Talks 40th session. Implementation of the Paris agreement is the only reply, he asserted.

Scarce resources, rising sea levels, desertification, and other challenges is a strong possible cause of instability between neighboring nations, so climate change action must be taken into serious consideration within Africa's politics, Luy stated. The ambassador stressed the role of the private sector and public commitment to combating climate change. "We are here to discuss how can we work together," said Luy.

As shifts to renewable energy and sustainability have taken over worldwide industries, Sybille Rohrkasten, the project coordinator of Global Energy Transition, argued that the expansion of renewable energy in Africa is not driven by climate change concerns, but rather by the rising demand on energy and trying to mobilize different sources of energy to compensate for fossil fuels. Globally, fossil fuels get five times more subsidy than renewable energy. They don't compete on equal grounds, Rohrkasten explained. In many African countries there is a lack of investment in renewable energy because they cannot cover the cost, she asserted.

With US $1 billion now available from public and private sectors for the climate change cause, framework for policy is key, as finances are available in theory but are not used properly, Rohrkasten said. Agreeing with Rohrkasten, National Coordinator of the Arab Youth Climate Movement Mariam Allam asserted that nations must be progressive in policy design and technology. However, the role of civil society is of equal importance for taking action.

The public should push for clear means of implementation of the agreement, along with capacity building through finance and technology, Allam said, adding that action in Africa needs to be restructuring to build a more connected model. Public awareness is also needed, she said.

"Give power to the people," Allam said. People have to be informed and to be well aware of their rights, and have to have power to act. Having access to information and resources, and mobilizing various people from all sectors of society, bringing in academics, government officials, the private sector, and people affected most such as fishermen, should have a huge impact.

Raising another concern, Mohamed Khalil, head of Environment and Sustainable Development Affairs at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said that there is a huge access gap to electricity for at least six hundred million people in sub-Saharan Africa. The agreement has to have an impact on people who are most vulnerable or remote, such as those who never had electricity before, Khalil said.

The parts of the Paris Agreement discussing adaptation are loosely structured, and many other details were not discussed in Paris, believes Lena Donat, a member of the Ecologic Legal team specializing in international environmental law. These should be tackled in the coming years, she stated.

"The biggest win is that we do have an agreement," she said, stressing that the overall political momentum of the summit will have a positive impact on Africa. Yet, governments' national climate plans and their implementation need close monitoring. Heads of governments are already drifting away from the agreement, Donat believes, adding that they need to keep up the spirit of Paris. "There is a risk of creating loopholes if we don’t watch carefully," she stated.

These concerns should be taken to the Marakkech climate talks this year, Donat said. Allam added that at the talks, it should be acknowledged where Africa now stands on poverty and water scarcity, and civil society needs to push for more flexible governmental policies.

Studies show that by 2050, two out of three Africans will be living in a city, highlighting the role that cities play in climate change.

"Cities are moving at a faster pace than governments ... and providing role models," Donet said. Being centers of innovation, everyday changes in cities would have a grave impact, Rohrkasten maintained. For example, shifting the transport section from cars to public transportation in cities with dense traffic like Cairo would make a difference.

"Citizens need to understand what their priorities are and how to live a good lifestyle," Donet asserted. She put questions for the residents of Africa such as "what industries do want to have? What do we want to eat? How do we imagine our transportation to be like?" These questions will shape the future of the continent and its climate.

Image: International Institute of Tropical Agriculture / CC BY-NC 2.0

Tags Climate change COP 21 Paris Climate Change Agreement Marrakech climate talks Cairo Climate Talks Julius Georg Luy Arab Youth Climate Movement Egyptian Foreign Ministry Global Energy Transition